Life on the farm in lock down

Herefordshire farmer Tony Norman describes the wildlife on his farm this spring.

First, for those that don’t know me, I think I should introduce myself and our farm. I live near Pembridge, on the farm known as The Leen. I married my wife Babs (whose family have farmed this farm for over 100 years) nearly 50 years ago.  We farm with our two sons and son-in-law together with their families. We have a dairy herd, a Hereford herd, a broiler chicken enterprise and we make electricity from their waste and farm crops. Other stock includes horses, dogs, hound puppies and ferrets with occasional lambs and pigs thrown in. The farm is quite intensive and covers quite a large area but because of a family interest in wildlife much is given over to that.

Now, we have been locked down for over a month, but thankfully we are all healthy and the farm business continues. At the beginning of last month, we were just pulling out of the worst flooding we have seen for many years. Through the beginning of the month the cows were turned out on abundant grass (they are a grass fed herd) but it soon trod up to a slurry, making them very unhappy. Thankfully we had some reserve silage for them and now the land is dry. Our milk was in massive demand when the panic buying was going on but now demand has dropped away some dairy farmers are having problems selling their milk. However, the chicken remains in good demand and people will always use electricity.

So, the farm is going OK, but what about the wildlife? Again- a bit more background:

We have a long stretch of the River Arrow running through the farm as well as the Curl Brook, many miles of hedgerow, acres of woodland and many farm ponds as well as several fields of permanent wildflower meadow.

I am lucky to have a passionate team of volunteers who have worked now for years to help wildlife on the farm as well as monitor it all. We have all learned a lot and I think achieved a little as well.

I thought I would just record a few of the events that have happened through this dreadful time to give a taste of wildlife happenings that are going on throughout Herefordshire all the time.

Early March

We finished cutting truncheons from a local native Black Poplar - our plan is to get 1000 planted around the county; our plan to do tree surgery on an ancient tree is thwarted by a Barn Owl flying out from the hollow tree and further plans to sex each tree in the county is thwarted by Corona!

A pollarded poplar at the edge of a field
Barn owl flying from a tree

Clearing litter as we do each year from the river Arrow between Kington and Pembridge, we find exoskeleton of White clawed Crayfish - good to know that this native crayfish still survives the onslaught of the American Signal invader.

Crayfish claws

The Frogs have been spawning in massive numbers with other wildlife taking advantage with Otters, Mink, Rats and Herons being shown on camera all shown to be feeding on them. We identify five different Otters using the Curl Brook.

By the 8th of March we are seeing the first Primroses and Wood Anemones and all the time seeing fungi of all sorts, helped, no doubt by the extraordinary wet weather.

Brown, wet-looking fungus

It is reassuring to find the Barn owls have moved back into our Owl box (I think the 5th year).

Barn owl stood at the entrance of a box in an oak tree

Mid-March

And we are locked down. First Bluebells, Violets and Early Purple Orchids by the 20th .  We start a list of all flowering plants in our ‘Mowley Valley project’ (an area of 100 acres of woodland and 40 acres of valley meadows)

Purple flower amongst vegetation

Late March/early April

We have been seeing Brimstone butterflies for a while but now have recorded: Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Orange tip, Green-veined White and Speckled Wood.

Mid-April

Large red Damsel seen on our frog pond  following large spawning of toads. Check plants in new Coronation wildflower Meadow- reassured to find plenty of Yellow rattle! Unplug the nest boxes to be ready for Pied Flycatchers. Sand/House Martins arrive.

Red damselfly

Later April

Brook lamprey spawning, first brood of Mallard, Cuckoo heard, Swallows, Skylarks nesting, Lapwings seen (but no Curlew ) and First Pied Flycatcher eggs recorded.

Nest with two blue eggs inside

This is just a taste of what we have going on round the farm. We must watch and do things independently but the walking and watching have helped to keep us all sane and well.

Elsewhere things keep ‘going on’ in the countryside and I am pleased to report a fantastic wildlife garden appearing at the Birches which is a wonderful place to go for a walk and watch all this wildlife.

If not, I hope you can walk and /or watch wherever you are.

Keep well

Tony